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February 2, 2014

Death toll rises to 16 from Indonesia volcano

MOUNT SINABUNG, Indonesia — The death toll from an Indonesian volcano that has been rumbling for months rose to 16 Sunday after rescuers found another charred corpse and a critically injured college student died in a hospital, officials said.

Mount Sinabung erupted again Saturday just a day after authorities allowed thousands of villagers who had been evacuated to return to its slopes, saying volcanice activity was decreasing. Rescuers found 14 bodies and rescued three people with burn wounds, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Rescue efforts resumed Sunday and rescuers found another body about three kilometers (two miles) from the volcano’s peak,  said Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna, who led the operation. Another resident, a 24-year-old college student died in an intensive care unit, said an official at the Efarina Etaham hospital.

Among the dead were a local television journalist and four high-school students and their teacher who were visiting the mountain to see the eruptions up close, Nugroho said. At least three other people were injured and authorities fear the death toll will rise.

Sinabung in western Sumatra has been erupting for four months. Authorities had evacuated more than 30,000 people, housing them in cramped tents, schools and public buildings, but many were desperate to return to check on homes and farms.

On Friday, authorities allowed nearly 14,000 people living outside a five-kilometer (three-mile) danger zone to return after believing volcanic activity had decreased. Others living close to the peak have been returning to their homes over the past four months despite the dangers.

On Saturday, a series of huge blasts and eruptions thundered from the 2,600-meter (8,530-foot) volcano. Television footage showed villages, farms and trees covered in thick gray ash.

Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Mount Sinabung is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia and has sporadically erupted since September.

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